Sharing in an Organizational Culture of Innovation: Insights from Leadership Program Research Applied

In my consulting work, we hear from many organizations that they desire a positive culture of innovation within their organizations that relies on the collaboration, contribution, and shared leadership of all employees. At BrainReactions, we have created a program to achieve positive outcomes in this area. During the final three years I worked on my doctoral dissertation studying high quality leadership programs, I was also creating and testing an innovation program for BrainReactions. This was a leadership program designed to help participants learn and engage in ideation and innovation for real purposes.

Like many companies, we highly value creating and sustaining a positive culture of innovation in our organization. Achieving this requires an intentional approach to develop the people of your company as exemplary creators, innovators, and leaders. Our vision with our leadership training program at BrainReactions involved moving from brainstorm sessions to a front end of innovation leadership program. This moves from just generating the ideas to also including training and development of the people who innovate.

In addition to the research of high quality programs, which included interviews of 62 stakeholders across four different exemplary leadership programs, the researcher developed and tested a new innovation program and individual program sessions with BrainReactions brainstormers. During a three-year period of research and testing, approximately 100 sessions where conducted, assessed, and improved accordingly. Sessions were qualitative and consisted of 5-12 individuals per session. Sessions were recorded, transcribed, and assessed for participant engagement, idea quantity and quality. The researcher employed the constant comparative method, an analytic induction grounded theory data analysis technique, to explore the data and construct a theory.

The theory of high quality leadership programs developed in the dissertation study is grounded in those programmatic attributes that, when enacted, contribute significantly to enhancing learning and leadership development. The data analysis revealed 16 attributes of high quality leadership programs organized into three clusters: a) participants engaged in building and sustaining a learning community; b) student-centered experiential learning experiences; and c) research grounded continuous program development. Through the program attributes, participants learn about innovation, leadership and themselves in the course of engaging in the leadership process while reflecting on and applying their new learning and skills in collaborative action with others.

The results of this multi-case grounded theory study of high quality leadership programs could be applied and adapted to enhance leadership development and innovation in a wide range of organizations. This theory will allow organizations to enhance their programs and participants’ leadership development by helping participants improve themselves through self-discovery, personal development, reflective practice and collaborative leadership action with others. This leadership action and learning can be directed towards idea generating for innovation to meet changing needs and opportunities for the organization though helping individuals contribute to and share leadership in an organizational culture of innovation.

To be a high quality program involves anchoring the systems and program in research, both what has happened elsewhere and what you have discovered internally. Our high quality leadership program for innovation that has yielded numerous positive individual, organizational, and client outcomes involves three clusters of attributes for program development. Both the diverse and engaged participants cluster as well as systems learning for continuous program improvement cluster are leveraged for development in addition to the individual centered experiential brainstorming experience cluster.

In essence I recommend more organizations to implement a leadership program that allows all employees to contribute to a positive culture of innovation through participating in innovation together. Programs can be constructed and facilitating using the identified clusters of attributes that matter most for learning and development.
There is a report identifying attributes of high quality leadership programs and how BrainReactions put these attributes into practice for their own innovation program and programs they develop for clients. Email Darin Eich at [email protected] for more information or to receive the report.

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